See-Think-Wonder: The impact of curiosity on learning

See-Think-Wonder is the first routine I’ve ever used and the first one I wrote about in a post for the Teaching English British Council blog community. It is a routine that asks students to observe carefully, think about what they see, and ask questions. The wonderful thing about it is that it taps right into students’ imagination and curiosity. Curiosity when aroused means they are highly motivated, alert and open to learning. This openness in turn, allows for interesting and original observations, thoughts and questions which are communicated through meaningful language.

Step 1

At the beginning of a topic or a unit, show students a painting, an image, an object. Make sure you choose a powerful stimulus to encourage observation, interpretation and wondering.

Step 2

Ask students to reflect on the questions:

What do you see?

What do you think about it?

What does it make you wonder?

Step 3

Allow for some quiet, uninterrupted observation time. Students can first jot down their responses before sharing them with the rest of the class. They work individually, in pairs or in small groups. It depends on how many ideas you want them to generate.

Step 4

Have students present and share their responses with the rest of the class. Document their thinking and ideas. You can do this by using the board, post-it notes, construction papers on the walls, by encouraging the students to jot down the ideas shared.

Classroom practice

See-Think-Wonder is a routine that works well when starting a topic. As with other thinking routines it’s important for a routine to be attached to meaningful content for thinking beyond surface to occur. I have used it with various topics: War/Peace, Asperger’s & Autism, School, The myth of Europe, Urbanization. I mainly used it when introducing the topic. I am sharing here two examples.

1. When introducing the topic of War/Peace I showed children Picasso’s Guernica. We first explored the painting through the Looking Ten Times Two routine. Groups then worked on the See-Think-Wonder. The ideas shared were:

2. A second case was when introducing the topic of Asperger’s & Autism. This time I chose Blue Butterflies Tongue, a fascinating painting by Steven Coventry, an artist with Asperger’s syndrome. This time many children chose to work in pairs so more ideas were shared:

In both these cases, the See-Think-Wonder routine unleashed in a beautiful way  students’ creative and metaphoric thinking. The surprise and curiosity evoked by the visual stimuli used led to a heightened state of consciousness and emotion brought about by something unexpected. They contemplated with joy, their interest was stimulated, the stage for further inquiry was set, and positive expectations for the next lessons to come were created.

Things to consider: Students must provide answers to all three stems at the same time (I see-I think-I wonder). When you first use the routine, they may respond only to the first stem (I see). In this case prompt responses to the other two by asking the follow-up questions (i.e. What do you think about it? What does it make you wonder?). Once they get used to the routine, they’ll provide answers to all three stems at the same time.


Blue Butterflies Tongue: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Future Megacities: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Guernica: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

School: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Visible Thinking, See-Think-Wonder

12 thoughts on “See-Think-Wonder: The impact of curiosity on learning”

  1. You are onto something very, very important here. Not sure, though, that the full potential is achieved using this kind of photograph.

    There is, arguably, a problem with humanity hardly ever really looking at anything in a non-utilitarian way. People are forever busy doing things, and the only items that come into focus are those that fit the preconceptions determined by the particular kind of busy-ness, and this creates massive areas of blindness which are breeding places for the hellishness endemic to our society. Hence, our belief that all students aged 10 to 15 should have to draw for at least four hours every week (here we are talking generally about education, not language classes).

    Perhaps in language classes (if this could be done safely) students could discuss their own photographs, providing they have been taken according to certain rules laid down by the teacher (e.g. no selfies, no photographs of friends or relatives, no photographs of pets or the neighbour’s cat – rules designed to force students to leave the realm of the familiar and begin to look closely at what is unfamiliar and so-far unnoticed). Students need to begin to notice what they have ignored, which is perhaps a step beyond noticing what an unknown photographer has noticed.

    Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. (John Berger)

      By the time I welcome my students in the primary school where I work they have become used to seeing the world through an unfiltered exposure to popular tv series, violent computer games, trendy music /fashion idols, and consumeristic and competitive goals to reach to mention just a few of their powerful spheres of influence. Immersed in a world of images and yet blind. This is a very powerful and thought-provoking point you make and I agree. At the same time they and their families are “forever busy doing things” as you say; they spend hours attending activities, extra classes and courses outside school while their parents work hard to be able to cater for these and become desperate that in recent years with the recession deepening they can afford fewer and fewer. They fear their children won’t have the “tools to individually succeed in the world of work” (borrowing your words again).

      Children come to school tired, bored and mainly associate it with textbooks, tests and grades. I try to get away a bit from that maybe because of my own disbelief in the above triptych. I also take advantage of the fact that in primary education here and for the time being, I do not have to teach directly to the test and curriculum still leaves some room for teacher autonomy. What you see here and here ( is an attempt to create a frame of reference that would make our co-existence in the English classroom mutually engaging and meaningful. It is an ongoing, exploratory effort. Through trial and error. Art is a vital component in this. Paintings, photography, animation films help us see and make meaning of human experience and, hopefully, make room for a small niche, an alternative to the “enhanced digital” and visual jungle out there.

      I am not sure what you mean by “this kind of photograph”. Your thought of students noticing, taking and discussing their own photographs is intriguing. It has crossed my mind, too, but I still feel a bit insecure about embarking on a such a venture mainly because the children are quite young and I have to frame it properly. For the time being, I select the artful stimuli used in our classes and the topics we work on though we have some prior discussions and post reflections on the latter.

      I appreciate your leaving a comment here, Torn. Thank you for this.


  2. By “this kind of photograph” I simply meant photographs taken by others. I am simply wondering out loud about whether, in the larger scheme of things, children don’t need to begin by being encouraged to see the unseen more directly rather than seeing photos taken by others attending to the unseen. What springs to mind is a case of a boy and a cat. Young boys seem to have or acquire a tendency to see cats as appropriate objects of torture. They see the tail, for instance, and wonder what heavy object could be tied to it. If the right sort of teacher could encourage the boy to sit and draw the cat, and the boy could come to see, for instance, the beautiful curve of the cat’s back when it is sitting and seen from a certain angle, that boy is likely to stop seeing the cat as an appropriate object of torture, and he becomes more likely to say No when invited to join his peers in their sadistic fun and games. Could the same be achieved by simply showing the boy a photograph of a seated cat seen from the correct angle to show that beautiful curve of the feline spine?

    Of course, here we are far from language teaching, but our concern has always been with the things that fall between the gaps when teachers are shut away in their narrow subject boxes, with English teachers teaching English, and Maths teachers teaching maths, and so on, and the boys getting sufficiently good grades, while little or nothing is done about the sadism of the schoolyard.


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